Not working at all gave many space to reimagine what work might be

This isn’t news: The problem every company seems to be struggling with right now – a new way to work. Do we compel employees to go back to the office? Do we do 100% remote? Do we do a hybrid, and if so …how many people / shifts / where/ when / how, etc.

The arguments for all, are compelling and valid.

Here’s something I’ve noticed though… employers and employees alike (and the media) keep crediting (blaming?) the pandemic for revealing that working from home is possible. We saw that we could work remotely and still be effective. Spoiler alert: we’re adults…of course we can!

However, I believe it’s worth noting that – along with the millions who successfully worked remotely during 2020 &2021, there were also a record number of employees who were laid off, restructured out, due to business challenges. The June 2020 U.S. jobs report from the Labor Department showed U.S. employers cut nearly 30 million positions from payrolls.

I had the privilege of leading 2 teams of brilliant career transition coaches during 2020. Along with managing teams, I also am got to coach executives who found themselves suddenly out of work.  Here’s what we saw time and time again, with many of these employees whom we coached during their job search:

During this time of not working at all, many realized how much their quality of life had eroded due to that full time job.  They suddenly had time to make slow cooked meals, to exercise again, to care for aging parents or children; things that mattered very much, but went the wayside in the pursuit of deadlines and paychecks. For example, I worked with a financial executive who is now happily running an Alpaca farm and caring for her elderly mother. An Alpaca farm!!!! (which I learned is ALSO a hell of a lot of work).

Here we are in 2022. All the companies who laid employees off in 2020 are now scrambling to retain current employees and hire new talent.  They need butts in seats.

My assertion is – by laying folks off, these organizations contributed to ability to experience what life COULD look like. By “giving” employees that time to reflect and that space to prioritize something other than the job, they sowed the seeds of our entitlement. (I put giving in quotes, b/c almost no one chooses the gift of outplacement). Social Media empowered us further, b/c the collective also reflected the desire to change our current state to our future state.

Now it’s on the organizations to solve for the long running problem employees had been chafing against for a while now, but previously felt they had no leverage to demand “work from anywhere” of their boss or organization.

That leverage is squarely in the employee’s hands now – between a strong hiring marketplace and a pandemic that keeps keeping us home, just as it appears the world will finally open up again (how many target months did your company have for “going back to the office”. First it was “May” then “August” then “sept” then “Jan” … well we’re in January two years later, and it’s more confusing and uncertain than ever).

It’s daunting for companies to reimagine work.  There are old systems that have worked for a very long time. And probably did make sense when a man went to an office (with no access to an iPhone), and a woman raised the children in the home. But it’s outmoded and not aligned with today’s the average employee’s needs/desires. And as a result, it’s ultimately unhealthy and unsustainable. 

There are many employers who are already reimagining what’s possible. They are the ones who will retain and attract good talent.  There are also some cool consulting firms doing the tough work for you – from what your new physical workspace might look like, to creating a vision for “gathering” to build connection not “face time” (and i don’t mean – FaceTime on your iPhone LOL). 

This ‘new normal’ isn’t impossible to achieve, but you do need innovative people who are willing to try and fail …and try and fail again …until we figure this out. 

And on the other side of it, you just might end up with an incredible workforce who is loyal and driven to deliver results for you because they feel valued, and engaged with by their company.

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